Botswana intelligence detain journalist after corruption stories

Picture: Theana Calitz/Gallo Images.

Picture: Theana Calitz/Gallo Images.

Botswana’s intelligence agency, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), has arrested a freelance journalist in what appears to be a further effort to intimidate the private media in a country viewed by the west as the shining example of democracy in Africa.

Sonny Serite spent a night in a Gaborone Central Police Station cell after two plain-clothes officers arrested him on Thursday.

Serite was allegedly arrested during a private meeting with a source. He has not been charged and has allegedly been denied legal representation.

He is believed to be working on an investigation into an alleged fall-out between President Ian Khama and his brother, Environment and Tourism Minister Tshekedi Khama, over deposed Military Intelligence boss Brigadier Peter Magosi.

Magosi, who was recently expelled from the military in murky circumstances, is linked to a new Tourism Intelligence Unit that is viewed as a threat to the DISS.

Serite has recently had a number of articles published in the Botswana Gazette about alleged corruption in a R250-million contract for the purchase of train coaches by Botswana Railways.

His lawyer, Martin Dingake, confirmed that Serite has not been allowed to see a lawyer, saying: “I have not consulted him. They keep sending me from pillar to post. But at the moment there is no charge.

“They confiscated some documents and say they want to investigate where he obtained them,” Dingake said.

He said he had managed to persuade the officers not to seek a search warrant as part of their investigation. One of them had also alleged that Serite has violated the National Security Act. 

“They are saying is that it’s a matter of national security. I told them you can’t negate constitutional protections on those grounds.”

Section 13(1) of the National Security Act of 1986 provides that if the director of public prosecutions is satisfied there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence under the National Security Act has been (or is about to be) committed and that someone is able to furnish information about the matter, they may be required to give the information to a police officer.

The arrest comes 10 months after the detention of the Seretse and the Botswana Gazette’s managing editor Shike Olsen, as well as reporters Innocent Selatlhwa and Joao Salbany, over a corruption expose.

Salabany, who is not a Botswana citizen, was later forced to leave the country when the authorities refused to renew his work permit.

Weeks before the 2014 general election, Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone was held for several hours under sedition charges, while a veteran journalist at the paper, Edgar Tsimane, fled to South Africa, saying that he feared for his life. 

The arrest was apparently related to report in the Standard that Khama was involved in an accident while driving alone through Gaborone at night. 

The Botswana Media and Allied Workers Union denounced Serite’s arrest as a violation of the constitutional right of freedom of expression. 

“We feel that all journalists in Botswana are under threat … whatever happens to one can affect the rest of us. We are deeply concerned with he continued arrest of journalists,” said the union’s president Phillimon Mmeso.

The image of Botswana as a bastion of press freedom has taken a battering since Khama took office in April 2008.  Freedom House now rates the country as partially free, a significant downgrading compared to previous rankings.  

The rights monitor said the arrest of Mokone and sedition charges against him make it increasingly clear that freedom of expression is under attack in Botswana, as the government tries to silence journalists. 

DISS director general Isaac Kgosi directed media questions about the Serite’s arrest to the Botswana Police. The commander of Gaborone Central Police Station, where Serite is being held, was said to be in a meeting.

This article was produced by Botswana’s Ink Centre for Investigative Journalism, in association with the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane).

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See for our stories, activities and funding sources.



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